Teach your children well

Rules of the road: Children in gated communities in South Africa

“Look left. Look right. Look left again – before crossing a road”.

Who doesn’t remember being taught this pearl of wisdom in road safety early on in their formal education, and in some cases, before they even started school?

teach your children to cross the road

It’s great advice – IF you happen to live in America, Germany, Sweden or any one of the other approximately 68% of the world’s countries where motor vehicles drive on the right-hand side of the road.

But if you live in any country like South Africa, where motor vehicles drive on the left-hand side of the road, it’s one of the most dangerous things you can teach anyone – especially a child! That is why you need to teach your children to cross the road in South Africa

You see, because motor vehicles drive on the left-hand side of the road here, mobile hazards will typically approach you from your right-hand side first, when you cross a road or enter an intersection. Looking in the opposite direction to that from which a hazard is approaching you is little short of suicidal, and probably goes a long way to explaining why South Africa’s road carnage level is among the highest in the world.

Teach your children to look “right, left, right” and you’ll be setting them on the right path to be a little safer on our roads. Practice it yourself and, if you’ve been doing it the wrong way around all your life, I guarantee you will notice a significant difference in your own encounters on the road.

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Speaking of teaching patently incorrect “road safety” behaviour to youngsters, it escapes me how it could possibly be that some parents apparently see no need to tell, let alone teach their children that the streets are not playgrounds. Worse yet, I find it horrifying that some parents go even further to assert that their kids should be allowed, and even encouraged to play on the streets!

In my capacity as one of the expert consultants to Advocate Johan Jonck’s www.arrive-alive.co.za website, I’ve encountered some bizarre questions over the past decade or so. This year I’ve fielded two particularly worrying questions regarding child safety in estates.

One such question came from an irate parent who was infuriated that his Homeowners’ Association had told him that his kids are not allowed to play in the streets, including in the “quiet cul-de-sac” in which he lives.

The other came from a concerned lady whose Homeowners’ Association insisted that children should be allowed to play in the streets and wanted to introduce this ridiculous notion into the estate rules.

My responses to the lady and the gentleman differed considerably but I couldn’t help feeling that both shared a common thread. Was my leg being pulled or are there really people among us who have no common sense at all?

It is my view that parents should love their children enough to teach them that roads are not playgrounds, even if those roads are situated in an idyllic “lifestyle” estate. It’s also my view that no Homeowners’ Association should be so arrogant and irresponsible (otherwise called negligent) to assert that children should be allowed to play in the streets, especially since such estates usually have ample common property set aside for the recreation purposes. Even if they don’t, the homes in estates are not typically what could be described as “pokey” and usually have gardens within which children may play safely.

To be blunt, roads are engineered to primarily cater for motorised vehicles and if/when one hits a person, it’s always the person who comes off second-best, even if that vehicle is travelling well within the speed limit. Children are the most vulnerable of all because the forces exerted on their little bodies in a collision differ considerably to adults.

In Sweden, which has an enviable road safety record and one of the lowest road fatality rates in the world, toddlers are taught a song which goes “cars are hard, children are soft”. In 1997 Sweden’s Parliament adopted a policy called “vision zero”, which involves reducing their already low road death and serious injury statistics to zero by 2050.

Although reducing speed limits in areas where pedestrians and vehicles are likely to come into conflict with one another to 30km/h is part of that strategy, I can assure you that nowhere in the vision zero strategy is it so much as suggested that children should be allowed to play in the streets.

Please parents, if your estate has sidewalks alongside the roads within it, teach your children to use them to walk and/or push their bicycles along them until they get to the park or playground set aside for play in your estate. If there are no sidewalks, then ask the developer to tell you why, given the fact that every road in a residential area must, by law, have a sidewalk.

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